I remember how afraid I was when Bharlina and I arrived in Managua that day, July 19, 1979, and how I couldn't eat or drink on the plane because of it. It was an early morning turnaround Air Canada flight from Toronto, a fancy Boeing 747 with a classy breakfast and free liquor. The flight had been arranged to pick up Canadian diplomats, or those Canadians who thought there might be open fighting in the streets, or those who had too-close ties with the Somoza Regime and their American supporters, or those who were escaping before the Sandinistas could question them. Bharlina and I were just out of our teenage years, and were not seasoned journalists by any means. This was always at the back of my mind. It was rumored that the revolution was rolling into the city even as we landed. We were excited to bear witness to a violent event, but frightened too, or at least I was.
Bharlina worked for the Canadian Tribune, a labor newspaper that I considered a propaganda rag. I was her cameraman, just as sure as she was my Pakistani princess. She was a good sport in bed and let me pretty much have my way with her. She had this stereotypical Asian female ideal of sexual sacrifice for a long-term cause. That pretty much summed her up politically as well. I think the long-term cause, in my case, was to convert me to Communism and then marry me.
She was a woman of means, as they say, and we checked into the Inter-Continental Hotel. It was a fine old place, and one of the few large structures in Managua that had survived the most recent earthquake. After we made out–I burn hot, especially when I'm nervous–we rented a jeep and rushed back to the airport. She wanted to interview the incoming Sandinista hierarchy and I wanted to take pictures of the famous Somocistas National Guard cornered on the tarmac, waiting for the Hondurans and Guatemalans–read, the CIA– to come and rescue them. We were authorized by the Sandinistas, or at least she was, but I remember how I felt when I found myself alone in the abandoned airport. The smell, the temperature, and the sounds were seeping into my body as though by osmosis. I was pretty darn scared.
I caught myself looking up through the holes in the roof of the airport that afternoon, and in the shifting perspective, I blinked away the bright Central American sun. I wondered again how safe I was, then glanced down to get equilibrium, scanning back and forth and verifying the footholds. I wore a loose t-shirt that fell well past my hips. It had a Montreal Canadiens logo. Cement debris littered the floor. The holes in the roof, made by mortar and bullets, looked recent, maybe even from this morning. The walls were pockmarked. In a strange way, I felt detached from my immediate surroundings. That's what fear will do to people like me if they try to ignore it: it comes back like a dream. And besides, the twisted paths to this story prohibit too much logical interpretation.
"Late last night, disorganized groups of the Sandinista rebel coalition poured into the city from all corners of the Central American country of Nicaragua," I said quietly into a recorder, which was strapped to a bag holding my camera equipment. I stopped and bent to pick up the pages that I had dropped, then started again. "The strong-arm dictator, President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, known here as Tachito, has fled the country. "
I stopped again and peeked around a corner and down a hallway, which was also strewn with rubble and litter. I saw no rebel soldiers. As I said, I wasn't afraid of them, only of being shot by accident. I stepped out into the hallway and continued to walk.
"The brutal and notorious National Guard is even now dissolving," I continued. "A neighboring country, Guatemala, has promised the United States of America to come with their air force and rescue thousands of National Guards, known here simply as Guardia. This will avoid the Guardia's almost certain slaughter at the hands of the unruly rebel forces."
A shot resounded from inside the building and I lowered my voice. "As I make my way to the roof of this quaint and shot-out airport structure, the remaining Guardia, by some miracle, still hold the airstrip to the north. Well, it's no miracle, really. It's known that while the international community watches, the Sandinista leadership, the FSLN, doesn't want the blood of the Guardia on their hands. FSLN is an acronym for Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or Sandinista National Liberation Front. Since last July, just one year ago, more than 10,000 people have died in this civil conflict in a small country of three million people."